Again Georgia found herself in the environment that made her the most comfortable, tucked away in the corner of a room letting her thoughts race each other at the speed of light, uninterrupted and uninhibited. Today this environment manifested itself as her favorite Brooklyn coffee shop, always enough chatter in the room for companionship but never rowdy enough to warrant earbuds. She was brainstorming ideas for her hit book series–at least hopefully a hit. It’s been a year since she’s moved to New York City ripe and ready for new experiences, fascinating characters, and the jumpstart to her career.
She found the first two in abundance but the latter wasn’t as easily achieved. In the past year, the city didn’t provide her much more than one-off contract journaling jobs while she desperately tried to scrounge together time to work on her debut novel. A book contract doesn’t really put bread on the table yet if the book is still a half-baked pie of hogwash. So here she was, spending her weekend sifting through piles of half-finished Word documents and scratched out title cards. But out of everything she felt in that tiny coffee shop: stress, frustration, inspiration, an empty stomach; the heaviest emotion at the bottom of her gut was in fact satisfaction. She was content.
She had survived a year in the city, a feat none of her friends or family thought was in her. And to be perfectly honest, she didn’t either. The city had been surprisingly gentle with her, slowly revealing it’s nooks and crannies, secrets, and amusements with a nurturing hand. It was like unfolding one of those insanely intricate origami pieces, gradually learning how each crease and fold came together to create something greater than the sum of its parts.
This feeling took Georgia by surprise, similar to the first sip of her favorite chamomile tea after trudging through the winter snow, except she knew that it was here to stay. It was less fleeting, more like she had finally found the missing jigsaw piece under the couch to the Cafe Terrace at Night puzzle set she’d been trying to finish since childhood. It was a satisfaction that took hard work and intention.
And it was right then, cramped in the corner of a tiny Brooklyn coffee shop surrounded by strangers; she felt like a true New Yorker for the first time.
Time seems to move so slowly second to second, hour to hour, day to day, and then all at once when you least expect it. My time at UC Santa Barbara seemed like it would never conclude but I suddenly find myself placed at the tail end of the story, frantically attempting to tie up loose ends and scribbling down last minute memories.
The story of the past four years turned out to be the rollercoaster ride that I had least expected, full of the winding twist and turns of any college experience. As with any rollercoaster, you can’t really process the events until the tail end, when all the carts start lining up at the exit. I guess now my cart is lining up at the exit. And as I get ready to be rushed out by the park workers, my mind is finally piecing together the stories that were told here. Not all of them have meaningful lessons at the end. Some are sad, and some are incredibly happy. Some are blurry and willingly half-remembered while others are as sharp as 4K. But none were inconsequential.
There are too many characters in this anthology to thank one by one but just know that each holds a special space in my heart. And thank you Mom and Dad for funding this one hell of a rollercoaster ride. ❤
P.S. Thank you Youssef Sibih for these amazing photos.
The rapid development and adoption of online social networks have allowed us to establish connections and create communities across states and even countries. It provides a platform for the voiceless to be heard and forms the backbone for cultural movements like #BlackLivesMatter to spread across the country. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have integrated themselves into our daily lives, woven into the fabric of our culture. However, due to the rise of machine learning and deep learning techniques, it is possible for malicious individuals to utilize a social media user’s posts, likes, and interactions to predict certain sensitive attributes about them (e.g., location, sexual orientation, political views, ethnicity, age, etc.). Through content-based analysis of a user’s post containing hashtags and trending topics, studies have been able to predict up to 76% accuracy the fine-grain location of the user. Just with Facebook likes analysis alone, a study was able to distinguish between Democrats and Republicans with 85% accuracy.
It is becoming increasingly important for us to be self-aware of the content we populate our social media with. Many individuals have developed an on-line persona that is in-line with what they want to portray to the rest of the world. However, these individuals may be unaware that they are also leaking sensitive information like their location while generating content. An oppressive government could use this location information to arrest or harass activists. Malicious individuals can also filter leaked attributes to pinpoint targets and pursue maligned agendas against them. One approach to protecting a user is to purposely post random and outrageous content in order to confuse attackers but that defeats the purpose of social media platforms. It is meant to be a stage for the individual to freely express their thoughts and opinions, sparking conversations with those that agree and disagree. These interactions come together to form the on-line persona of the user which represents their political views, thoughts, interests, etc. and this isn’t something that we want to compromise. We need to be able to protect the sensitive attributes of a user while keeping their on-line persona intact.
Our proposed solution is LocBorg, an artificially intelligent social media assistant that lies locally on a user’s machine helping them defend their privacy on social media. We will focus first on the problem of hiding location, arguably the most sensitive attribute a user would want to protect. LocBorg will unobtrusively suggest topics in-line with the user’s online persona that will help obfuscate their location from malicious third-parties. This means that the on-line persona of a user isn’t compromised in the process of protecting against adversaries, ensuring that the utility of social media platforms is maintained. This is possible through a novel obfuscation tree structure that will help the user achieve k-location-indistinguishability after N tweets depending on the user’s historical social media activity. After reaching k-location-indistinguishability, LocBorg will utilize ideas borrowed from differential privacy to suggest “noise topics” which will protect the user from breaking their k-location-indistinguishability with future posts. As such, we designed LocBorg to achieve the following goals:
- User Centric: LocBorg is designed around maintaining the user’s persona in order to preserve the positive qualities of a social media platform while still assisting the user in controlling their leaked attributes (e.g., location)
- Reactionary: Social media is an extremely fast-paced environment with trending topics coming and going within hours. LocBorg must be able to react to the fast-paced nature of this domain, constantly monitoring the changing persona of the user and suggesting relevant topics to protect their location.
- Proactive: LocBorg must be able to prepare the user’s online persona from future attacks by consistently suggesting topics that will allow the user to continue generating content in-line with their desired persona while keeping their location safe.
Woohoo! Watch out for LocBorg debuting in a city near you 2018. Just kidding, I just thought this blog was getting a little too abstract lately with poems, short stories, and what not so I decided to talk about one of the projects I’ve actually been working on in my life. Hope you liked the sneak peak.
the worst //
There is attraction in the worst
hurtful exactions better untold
the mute, depression over-rehearsed
a siren of deceptions manifold
the best //
There is confidence in the best
a divine backdrop though idyll
something strived for, but unpossessed
so prized, yet just another cycle
the most //
Then is there is that which brings out the most
of depth and breadth from the innermost
of the desired and half-promised almosts
would be given just for another dose
of everything //
And that is where my ambitions reside
To stretch my limbs over this vast breadth
Leaving wordly inhibitions at the wayside
To dive into the unknown, cavernous depths
I’ve always loved stories. Tales of valiant knights donning their armor riding off to rescue fair maiden or fables of blanched ghouls creeping the winding roads at twilight. But of course not all stories are fabricated.
We are all compelling story tellers. There are the stories we wear on our sleeves, retold and reenacted in exchange for the simple laughter of our peers. Some are sheltered tight and snug in our back pockets only revealed to our closest confidantes. And of course the untold stories, hiding in the back of our throats, lurking in our minds, waiting to be staged. There are endless variants of stories; the ones told to us, told about us, and told to others, but I’d like to argue that the most important story we tell has only one audience.
It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you who you are. We build ourselves out of that story.
I find it peculiar that this story we tell ourselves is often one of the most uninspired narratives we are capable of weaving, absent of reckless heroes and daring leaps of faith. Instead, it follows the narrative of the status quo. Like a coloring book, we simply paint the story within the lines prescribed to us. We forget our capacity as the storyteller, as if the story is being told to us rather than by us.
Our unbending belief in this story is what dictates the next chapters of our lives. The groundwork has been laid and the exposition has concluded. New story or old, I hope the next page is one we can all be proud of.
Today officially marks the date that I was conscious on this Earth for exactly twenty-one years. It also just happens to be the age which American culture delineates as the boundary between childhood and adulthood. So, I guess my childhood is officially over…if that wasn’t already the case when Pokemon was no longer aired on Saturday morning cartoons shows. I’ll finally now be able to enjoy all the benefits that come with being an official adult within American law, like getting married without parental consent in Mississippi.
Of course, along with all the benefits include the hefty responsibilities. In a way, this marks the beginning of trying to fake my way through understanding what being a adult really even means. Paying rent? Having a job? Cleaning the communal bathroom every now and then? It’s the time to take chances, fuck up, try again. Move to a new city. Attempt personal improvements. Dig deeper into hobbies and passions. Maybe in ten years I’ll know what being an adult feels like.
Anyways, I’m getting off-topic from the point of this post. Luck.
I find that it’s really easy to focus on the unlucky. The days when the pigeons decide to excrete their bodily fluids atop your head or you conveniently bump into that person you met at that one party that one time whose name you forgot. Yup, unlucky. Well I had the most obvious realization as I was walking around San Francisco city half-buzzed from the consumption of my first legal alcoholic beverages and good company. I am so incredibly lucky.
This is something I rarely hear said aloud. It’s always about something thats missing. Something that didn’t go as planned. Something unlucky. I guess I just wanted to document this somewhere. To remind myself that I am incredibly lucky. And what a tremendous responsibility it is to be this lucky. To be surrounded by incredible family and friends. To have the opportunity of education.
I don’t deserve it but I’ll take this luck and try my best to spread it around, to use it well. In short: thank you Universe, I’ll try to make you proud.
Another sleepless night.
“I’ve really got to switch out this mattress,” he grumbled as he uncomfortably shifted into the eighth position of the night. It was going to be far from the last. Another ten minutes of attempted sleep passed by before he opened his eyes in resignation. There wasn’t any point in trying to sleep; it was far from the mattress which was upsetting his circadian rhythm.
He shifted himself to stare at the empty popcorn ceiling. Illuminated by the moonlight, it resembled the rugged surface of a blank canvas.
“What would I paint?” he chuckled as the only images which came to mind were plots and graphs. They were always beautiful to him. The meaning derived from these images always seemed more tangible than those of Van Gogh or Picasso.
“If my life were a graph right now, I know exactly where I would be,” he sighed.
“The top of the parabola.”
Or as some others would call it: he peaked. It was just downhill from here. A dozen jumbled thoughts ran through his head as he closed his eyes in another attempt to retreat into his dreams; where fortunately his only problems were to keep track of the sheep.
He could hear the ocean waves gently crashing outside. Never-ending. No matter what happened in the world, the ocean waves continued ceaselessly upon the shore. Up and down. Up and down. A constant.
Something he could learn from. He entertained the thought that maybe, just maybe, he was at an inflection point. The trajectory hasn’t changed. Like the moments between low tide and high tide.
“Did you really just make metaphors between your life and the ocean,” he could hear in his best friend’s voice. He chuckled and finally felt a little worn out.
“If only I could be the sea.“
In general, the arts can be divided into two basic types, visual and temporal. The visual arts occupy space and can theoretically be seen in their entirety at any given moment. The temporal arts occupy time and can be perceived only as they unfold over it.
People claim the visual arts are easier to appreciate; to enjoy a vibrant painting or the exquisitely detailed architecture of a building. Personally, I agree. It’s easy to appreciate what’s right in front of your face. How can you do anything else but stare and drool when you first lay your eyes on a hot, steaming Famous Bowl at KFC? The pinnacle of visual art. Or say the Sistine Chapel. Niagara Falls.
We learn very quickly to distinguish the aesthetic from the repugnant. The swan from the duckling. Before long it has become second nature to recognize visual beauty. To marvel at a crimson sunset. To separate a pretty face from the crowd.
But there are also beautiful things which take time. The bonds of friendship formed over a decade or faith in family solidified by the fires of countless quarrels. People often focus on the visual over the temporal because it’s effortless. But unfortunately an alluring flower will not always stay beautiful. And even a monumental cathedral will eventually crumble. Speaking for myself, I’ve always been enamored by visual beauty. But over time I’ve come to realize the importance of recognizing temporal beauty.
Beauty and art which unravels over time takes effort on both the artist and viewer’s behalf. Because temporal art isn’t as blunt as visual art; it’s something you have to be looking for. It takes time to get to know someone. Learn the intricacies of their personality. Feel around for the cracks that have formed over time. Break down the walls that were built from broken promises and regret.
But I guess sometimes it’s simpler to stare at something beautiful instead.